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Atlantic Coast

Florida for Tourists, Invalids, and Settlers


On its Atlantic seaboard Florida presents some curious physical features. Along its entire extent there are no good harbors, except at Fernandina and St. Augustine, and the soundings are shoal for some distance out; yet just back of the coast-line, for a distance of over three hundred miles south of the mouth of the St. John's River, there is a succession of streams and lakes and lagoons which afford almost uninterrupted inland water communication along more than two thirds of the total length of the peninsula. The most important link in this chain of waters—the Indian River—is fully described elsewhere. At the northern extremity of Indian River a canal, two thousand feet long, known as the Haulover, leads into the Mosquito Lagoon, which extends northward about twelve miles to Oak Hill, and then, through the Devil's Elbow, connects with the Hillsboro River. The latter extends northward about fifteen miles, and then becomes known as the Halifax River, which begins about twenty-four miles south of St. Augustine. All this portion of the State is exceptionally attractive, with a fine climate, excellent sea-beaches, rich soil, and a varied capacity for production. Its chief need at present is easy and certain connection with the natural markets for its products, and this is likely to be afforded by a canal which the Lake Okechobee Land Company propose to include in the great system of public improvements which they have undertaken to carry out.

Their plan is to construct a continuous line of canal, suitable for commodious steamers of light draught, beginning at a point at or near the confluence of Pablo Creek and the St. John's River, and extending thence in a southerly direction to and including Lake Worth, a total distance of about three hundred and thirty miles. In this connection the following passages from a "Report to the Company," by the civil engineer (Mr. James E. Kreamer), who examined the proposed route in the spring of 1881, will prove interesting:

"In constructing the Coast Canal from the St. John's River south, advantage may be taken of the waters of Pablo Creek, North River, Mantanzas River, Mata Compra, and Smith's or Haulover Creek, Halifax and Hillsboro Rivers, Mosquito Lagoon, Indian River, St. Lucie Sound, Jupiter, Lake Worth Creek, and Lake Worth. All of the above-named waters are adjacent to, and generally parallel with, the east coast of Florida, being separated from the ocean by peninsulas and extended narrow islands, varying in width from a few yards to several miles. These inland waters, affording an almost unbroken line of communication, mail, at a reasonably moderate expenditure in systematic construction presenting no embarrassing engineering problems, be developed into a great canal, possessing features peculiarly its own. Merely where the artificial work of joining river to river is performed can it be regarded as a canal proper, as from these points it develops into those majestic arms of the sea, from thirty to one hundred miles in length, varying from one to six miles in width, bordered on either side by a country enjoying unbounded agricultural resources, a semi-tropical luxuriance in beauty of foliage, scenery of an exceedingly varied and picturesque character, and blessed with a climate throughout the entire year the most equable and salubrious enjoyed by any State in the Union.

"From St. Augustine the Mantanzas River extends in a southerly direction a distance of twenty-five miles, with an average width of one half mile. Its waters are salt and tidal, and with the exception of isolated bars, and a rapid shoaling for a distance of three miles from the head of the river, there is a fair channel for light-draught boats. Anastasia Island, which acts as a breakwater for the harbor of St. Augustine, forms the eastern shore-line for a distance of eighteen miles to Mantanzas Inlet. The natural surface is not so elevated as on the west shore, and is composed in part of shell-land and black, loamy sand, capable of producing profitable crops. On the mainland are beautiful groves of pine, red cedar, and oak. Desirable cleared land is worth from fifty to one hundred dollars per acre, depending on location and richness of soil. South of Mantanzas Inlet the river rapidly contracts in width and depth to its junction with Pellicers Creek, at which point the work of constructing that portion of the canal connecting the Halifax River properly begins, consisting of a cut eighteen miles in length. In this operation advantage may be taken of the Mantanzas to its junction with the Mata Compra Creek, thence, generally following this stream to its bead, from which, for a distance of six miles, the route crosses the country to the source of Smith's Creek, which will have to be deepened and straightened to within four miles of the bead of the Halifax. The country to the west of this portion of the line consists of flat woods, prairie, savannas, high and low hammock of oak, palmetto, wild-orange, etc.; the surface undulating, soil sandy, and, judging from the topography and general indications, the opening of this section of the canal can be readily accomplished.

"That interesting arm of the sea, whose several divisions are known respectively as Halifax River, Hillsboro River, and Mosquito Lagoon, forming a common channel, with an outwatering at Mosquito Inlet (latitude 29° north), continues to the south and parallel with the ocean-beach a distance of fifty-five miles, and is separated from it by a narrow strip of land about three fourths of a mile in width. The hamlets and towns of Holly Hill, New Britain, Daytona, Halifax City, Port Orange, Blake Post-Office, and New Smyrna, on the margin of the river, are desirably located, principally on rich, high hammock- lands of palmetto, oak, and other forest-trees. The inhabitants are from all sections of the Union, generally prosperous and anxiously awaiting the opening of the canal, and the consequent impetus to the general industries of the country. Daytona is the most important town on the river, possesses a good hotel, stores, etc. New Smyrna, in the year 1770, was the seat of a large and profitable trade in indigo, immense crops of which were cultivated by a colony of Minorcans, under the guidance of Andrew Turnbull; the dense hammocks, old canals, and turnpikes are silent monuments attesting to the vast extent of the plantations devoted to this enterprise. The river varies in width from one half to two and a half miles, possessing a fairly direct channel, intercepted by sand and oyster bars, rendering portions of the route very tortuous; beautiful islands dot its surface, and the shore-lines are covered with verdure to the water's edge. A low belt of sand about seven hundred yards in width, pierced by a narrow canal, known as the Haulover, separates this system from Indian River, whose coralline bed and generally well-defined shore-line extends a distance of one hundred and twenty miles to the south, a narrow fringe of sand protecting it from the ocean, the only communication therewith being at Indian River Inlet, latitude 27° 30° north. At the respective distances of ten; twenty-one, and thirty-six miles from the Haulover, Titusville, Rock Ledge, and Eau Gallic are located; the first-named, the countyseat of Brevard County, being the most prominent. It possesses a good hotel, and is the general headquarters for business on the river. Rock Ledge is the center of a large section of country devoted to the cultivation of the orange. One thousand acres of land in this vicinity will, when set in trees, give an output of over three hundred thousand Merritt's Island, extending from the boxes per annum.

I head off the river to a point opposite Eau Gallie, is noted for its valuable lands, tropical fruits, and rich yield from the sugar-cane. The St. Sebastian River partially drains the northern portion of the Halpatiokee Flats, and it is the most prominent of several streams joining the lagoon north of Indian River Narrows, which are due to a number of islands contracting the channel at this point. Fort Capron, fifty-six miles south of Eau Gallie, and opposite Indian River Inlet, is the site of a military post, established in 1849. Meteorological observations, extending over a series of years, show an equable temperature, with comparative dryness, mild and salubrious climate, and absolute immunity from epidemic disease. An abundance of fruit, vegetables, game, fish, oysters, etc., would certainly commend this as a site for a commodious hotel. Twenty-five miles south the St. Lucie River, which is the principal outlet for the drainage of a vast territory lying east of Lake Okechobee, is confluent with the Indian River; it has a wide and deep channel branching off into a north and south prong, and in constructing a drainage canal from Lake Okeechobee to the forks of the St. Lucie, opposite the month of the latter, it will be necessary to open an inlet connecting Indian River with the ocean. The inlet at Gilbert's Bar, just south, has been opened on several occasions, mid as often, due to its natural feature, closed. On the east side of Indian River, just north of the mouth of the St. Lucie, a large bay extends toward the ocean, and is separated therefrom by a sandy ridge not over three hundred feet wide, with a possible underlying stratum of coquina. The ocean-beach forms a slight cove at this point, beyond which is a reef exposed at low tide and concave to the shore-line. These conditions are very favorable to the maintenance of an inlet, the opening of which I would recommend at this point; and if once formed due to the action of tidal waters, its permanence is assured. Indian River, for a distance of one hundred and twenty miles, will average one and a half mile in width, widening at points to five miles, with a generally direct channel redging at intervals in order to rerender it.

"The land bordering the river is generally high and low hammock, interspersed with scrub palmetto, with some marsh adjacent the narrows. The soil is very productive, sugar-cane and tropical fruits maturing to perfection. Three miles south of the St. Lucie we enter Jupiter Narrows, which are very tortuous, necessitating the labor of straightening and deepening at several points. They extend south, measured by the channel, a distance of twenty miles to Jupiter Inlet, intercepting Peck's Lake and Hope Sound; a dense growth of mangrove covers the low borders; and from general observations afforded by the openings, I inferred the land for the entire distance to be of good quality, and the same character as that farther north.

"A continuation of Jupiter Inlet to the west for a distance of eight miles, forms the Loocabachee, a broad river, from which are several branches, bordered by cypress, oak, etc., leading into the prairies and flats. From the inlet to Lake Worth, by the windings of Lake Worth Creek, the distance is about thirteen miles, in a direct line, not over seven. A single cut of one hundred yards in length will make a saving of one and a half mile in distance; this same feature is noticeable in a marked degree at other points. There is a depth of five feet of water in the channel from its mouth to the rapids, from this point to the canal and Haulover at Lake Worth the water is comparatively shallow, and at its bead is about eight feet above the level of the surface of the lake. A direct cut from the rapids to Little Lake Worth, which is immediately north of Lake Worth proper, would shorten the distance materially. it is not necessary to comment on the favorable character of the land in the vicinity of Lake Worth, as even with its present development, semi-weekly cargoes of vegetables and tropical fruits in their respective seasons could be provided."

Excerpt from Chapter 11, "An Ocean Voyage in Winter" Florida for Tourists, Invalids, and Settlers, 1882.


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